Published Aug 23, 2011Toronto, ON-based electronic musician and Ghostly artist Solvent (aka Jason Amm) gets conceptual with latest release RDJCS5-EP. Produced on a mono-synth that used to belong to Richard D. James (more commonly known as Aphex Twin), the EP is in fact a tribute to the aforementioned king of IDM. Although the titles are taken from the unofficial names of tracks on Selected Ambient Works Volume II, the music, with its quirky, playful, µ-Ziq-esque melodies and hints of bonkers rave, more closely evokes middle-period Aphex Twin, such as ...I Care Because You Do and the Richard D. James Album. At times, it even has a touch of Future Sound of London's "We Have Explosive" about it. The music is an insanely well-observed homage to Aphex Twin and the '90s British IDM scene in general. Some may find themselves questioning the concept of recreating a more famous auteur's work ― much as many did with Gus Vant Sant's equally well-observed but motivationally confusing remake of Hitchcock's Psycho ― but the quality is beyond doubt. The twelve-inch release is limited to 300 copies and contains a unique bonus noise track, "Sandpaper," which will be individually hand-etched into the vinyl by Solvent himself.
The EP was made using a Yamaha CS5 Monosynth originally belonging to Richard D. James. What were the limitations of the instrument and was it having access to the instrument that gave you the idea for the EP?
The Yamaha CS5 is a very basic mono-synth, with a limited sound palette. It makes a fine synth for simple sounds like bass or leads, but for more difficult-to-program sounds like hi-hats and snares, it is lacking the required complexity and that made many of the sounds a challenge. I'd have to get into some long-winded synth-nerd details to explain it better than that, so for those who are interested in that kind of thing, you can search online for the Modyfier blog piece that I wrote about the EP. I'd had this idea in mind for ages ― to create an entire release using a single synthesizer ― but this is something that has been done before by other artists and, frankly, most people could care less about it. Having access to this synth was a great incentive to realize the idea, because I knew that the story behind this particular synth would generate interest, so the exercise wouldn't be in vain.
The track names on the EP are taken from Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Why did you choose those names?
Well, first of all, they aren't the official song titles; they are what people use to refer to the songs, since each song is represented by an image. If those were the official song titles, I wouldn't have used them. I didn't take any inspiration from those particular songs here. Musically, this twelve-inch has nothing in common with SAW II, since my songs on this EP are all beat-oriented. The connection is simply that I made the entire record with this Yamaha CS5 synth that has Richard D. James's liner notes for SAW II etched into the bottom of it, so the titles are just a reference to the history behind the synth.
What is it about Richard D. James's music that has had such an impact on you and what is your favourite work by him?
My favourite RDJ work would have to be …I Care Because You Do, followed closely by Analogue Bubblebath 3. Before I discovered Aphex Twin and his Rephlex label, I was strictly into synth-pop and industrial; techno was, like, a dirty word to me. In the early '90s, synth-pop seemed to be totally dead and there was a real drought of good, new industrial music. I was trying to keep up with the new industrial bands, stuff like Leatherstrip and even Nine Inch Nails, but inside I knew this stuff was totally lame. When I discovered Aphex Twin, it totally blew my mind. It was like discovering punk rock, for me, and it made all of these new industrial bands sound like wusses. Aphex Twin was my gateway into the world of techno, electronica and bedroom electronic music production, so he really had a pivotal influence on my decision to start creating electronic music.
What do you think Richard D. James would think of the EP? Some could see it cynically as a grab for publicity. What would be your response to that?
Honestly, I think that if RDJ does find out about this EP, he will be ticked off about it and is going to have a cynical reaction. But I also believe that if he hears it, he will appreciate and even like it. He has a great ear for synthesis and melody, and I am confident that he would recognize the same in me. The topic of this EP came up on the Aphex Twin forum and there were several people who had really cynical, negative reactions to it. There was one guy on there who said he had been a fan of Solvent, but that he now hates me because of this; he definitely perceived it as some kind of "cash grab" or something. Ha, ha, cash, that's funny. I was surprised and felt a bit down when I read this, but at the end of the day, it's really something for me to be able to stir up any debate or controversy in this day and age. It's an instrumental electronic twelve-inch by a bedroom electronica artist who's been going for 14 years now, so the fact that this release is generating some buzz about Solvent is awesome. Honestly, I knew that it would get a lot more attention than a regular Solvent twelve-inch, so there is a publicity element to it, for sure, but I feel like I approached this in a respectful way and, ultimately, I feel like it is a sincere homage to Aphex Twin. Here's a little quote from the sticker on the twelve-inch: "No AFXian endorsements or associations are implied herein."
What other artists would you like to make a similar EP for?
Actually, last year I did a remix of Alison Moyet, and I made a concerted effort to make it sound as much like an old Yazoo song as possible. Personally, I feel like I totally nailed it better than just about anyone else could've done, so that was my Vince Clarke homage. With my Vince and Richard tributes in the bag, I'd say my bucket list for this kind of release is complete! (Suction)